Veterans Reflect on Challenges They Faced During the Invasion of Normandy

At a church in St. Mere Eglise, 82-year-old Pfc. Wilson Colwell wept as he recounted what the war had cost them all.

"So many men were lost. So many," he said.

And the students sat, hushed and solemn, until he had no more to tell.

Sgt. William Simpkins, 84, fought in France and Belgium and Germany. He wasn't sure what to expect from a trip with college students in tow, but he said this has changed everything for him. He is hopeful now that so many of the memories, the lessons of World War II, will not die with his generation. He has gained faith in this youngest generation.

"We look back at what we did here, those who died here, and sometimes we wonder, was it all worthwhile?" Simpkins said. "And I see these kids, and I know it was worthwhile."

All this happened the day before I sat next to three extraordinary people on a train in Normandy, France. As I spoke with Fox, Batts and Hay, I wished so much that I could convince them that their memories do matter, that the bravery of their youth can still inspire, that they should -- somehow -- summon up the will to recount it all, document it all, for the generations to come.

I can understand their reluctance. Hay is a silver-haired, soft-spoken woman whose gently-lined face reveals nothing about the war of her youth, the incredible bravery of her days at the battlefield or the hard lessons she learned from war.

Few would think to draw the stories from her now. Perhaps her family has heard it often enough that it doesn't mean as much to them now as it would to the rest of us. It's hard to press on when the interest doesn't seem to be there.

Maybe, just maybe, a group of students like those at College of the Ozarks will discover Hay, Batts and Fox -- and they'll get them to tell their stories, to hear what I heard that day on the train: that a generation that will soon be gone left us a legacy of bravery and wisdom and resilience.

We really, really should treasure that -- before it's too late.

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